RHI Debacle

Oral Answers to Questions — Finance – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 16th January 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Justin McNulty Justin McNulty Social Democratic and Labour Party 2:30 pm, 16th January 2017

T1. Mr McNulty asked the Minister of Finance to divulge, in relation to the RHI debacle, the information that he was privy to, when he became aware of the massive overspend and what he did about it. (AQT 636/16-21)

Photo of Justin McNulty Justin McNulty Social Democratic and Labour Party

I applaud the Minister for standing by his officials and his Department. At least he recognises where the buck stops, unlike someone on the opposite Benches who wants to pin all her failings on her officials.

Photo of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Sinn Féin

Ba mhaith liom buíochas a thabhairt duit. There is getting to be a very crowded election feel today.

This was before the Member came into the Assembly, but you will find that what happened is that, when the Economy Committee became aware of the renewable heat incentive (RHI) scandal, we demanded action from the relevant Economy Ministers, and the matter was then reported to the Public Accounts Committee. It is a fact that, when those parties other than the DUP became aware of the brewing RHI scandal in January/February 2015, we all delivered on our commitments.

As well as that — speaking, if I may, a LeasCheann Comhairle — for Sinn Féin, we immediately started asking hard questions, but let me tell you what I did to bring the shameful RHI scandal to an end. On my appointment, it was quite clear to me that the threat from RHI — the hundreds of millions of pounds — was unsustainable. We immediately made sure that this was brought up repeatedly with the Department for the Economy. That Department did not need my officials to tell it that by May/June/July of 2016. There had been so many other warnings and so many other red flags that it should have been moving on the issue. Of course, in July 2016, there was not only a pivotal meeting with my officials at which they said, "Get this sorted", but that was the month when the Comptroller and Auditor General dropped his explosive report on the desk of the Economy Minister. That then led to the PAC inquiry. I am happy that the buck stops with the architect of the RHI scheme, and we know that that is Arlene Foster, by her own admission. The buck also stops with the DUP Minister who, for whatever reason, did not close down — perhaps only an investigation will get to the truth of this — the scheme in time. That has left the shameful situation in which, every day as we speak, £85,000 is lost to the public purse.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Deputy Speaker

I remind the Minister again of the two-minute rule.

Photo of Justin McNulty Justin McNulty Social Democratic and Labour Party

It is well-documented that your party, Minister, was well aware of the overspend a year ago. Why did it not act sooner, or is it simply a matter of being caught out?

Photo of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Sinn Féin

The Member was not here of course and was not on the Economy Committee, but all the other parties found out at the same time and took the correct steps at that time. Let me tell you what I have done additionally to bring people to book and, as far as possible, to bring about the closure of the RHI scheme. Since my appointment, I have insisted that the Department for the Economy come up with a solution. The pathetic, risible attempts by the SDLP to link Sinn Féin to the corruption of the DUP and to the arrogance and ineptitude of the DUP in dealing with this are just that — absolutely pathetic. We have brought the DUP to book on the issue. We insisted that it come forward with a solution to the RHI debacle. When it dithered and foot-dragged, we went back and had another pivotal meeting. When the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report came out, we said, "These are the options. Bring them forward. Take some action". Sadly, as I have said in the media, not until 'Spotlight' did we get the momentum that the public deserved. The ineptitude lies with the DUP. The cock-up lies with the DUP. The inability to act when it should have lies with the DUP. We will be told later today that we will get a temporary solution — the fault for that lies with the DUP. If it had taken action and listened to the warnings from me and others, we would not be in this position today.